There are reports that as many as 10 to 12 NFL clubs could face blackouts this year, prompting outraged observers to call on the league to change its TV policy. But I'm not sure that is necessary. In fact, I'd try another approach with teams having trouble selling out, and it looks like this: Send them where they're appreciated.
Send them to London.
You heard me. London, England. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell this week said that regular-season international games have been so successful the league is considering "the idea of playing multiple games in London as early as next year." Wow, now that was sudden. But so was the drop-off in league-wide season-ticket sales, which got me to thinking the two could be ... no, should be ... related.
Feeling unwanted at home? No problem. Go where people will stand in line to see you. Go where you're a unique attraction. Go where fans care more about the product than the people endorsing it. In short, go to England.
Look, the economy in this country isn't going to pick up overnight, which means that a city like Jacksonville isn't about to start packing the house next year. The Jags are an extreme example of a good football team gone bad, and I'm not talking about their play on the field; I'm talking about their season ticket sales, which plunged from 42,000 to 25,000.
Trust me, the league has noticed. In fact, Goodell said he was "a little disappointed" with the Jags' lagging ticket sales and was working with owner Wayne Weaver "to see what we can do to support him." Well, I'd like to pitch in, too, so here's my idea, Roger: Offer your support by taking one game out of a half-filled stadium and exporting it to Europe where, I guarantee, there will be a lot more than 25,000 people who show up.
Yeah, yeah, I know, naysayers tell me you want a marketable product -- like New England and Tampa Bay this season -– and that Jacksonville isn't a sexy sell. New England is one of the league's premier franchises, while the Bucs are owned by the same family –- the Glazers -– that owns Manchester United, one of the premier soccer teams in the world. So the game is easy to market from either side, which it might not be were the Jags involved. At least, that's what critics contend.
But what about Miami two years ago? The Dolphins not only were in the midst of a 1-15 slide; they were coming off a 6-10 finish that got their head coach fired. And while their opponents, the New York Giants, were a playoff team the previous season, they barely made it to 8-8 -– with coach Tom Coughlin escaping the firing line when he beat Washington in the regular-season finale.
Granted, the Giants have a storied history. So does Miami. But neither was particularly attractive in the middle of the 2007 season.
That's why I put clubs like Jacksonville and, say, Oakland on the table for discussion. The Jags have been to the playoffs two of the past four years. The Raiders haven't done anything but just lose, baby, since reaching Super Bowl XXXVII, but they have the long history and passionate following that made Miami an attractive export. Both teams experienced local TV blackouts, with Jacksonville facing the potential of eight blackouts this fall, and both would like to solve the problem.
So solve it. Send them to London where they can sell tickets and won't have spectators disguised as empty seats.
My point is this: You can kill two problems with one bold move here. You want a show of hands for teams willing to move one of their eight home games to England, and good luck. Clubs don't like to forfeit the competitive advantage that goes with a home game. But they don't like to play in front of empty stands, either.
We already know there are 10-12 clubs facing possible blackouts, and those teams seem like logical candidates to put in front of 80,000 people in London. So start taking names –- Jacksonville, please stand forward -– and start collecting passports.
"It would not be far-fetched to think this is something that should be talked about," said one league source.
I couldn't agree more. It's time to start talking to Jacksonville.